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The Ministry of Special Cases (Vintage International)

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The Ministry of Special Cases (Vintage International) Cover

ISBN13: 9780375704444
ISBN10: 0375704442
Condition: Standard
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Review-A-Day

"The awkward dance between tragedy and farce continues through the book's final pages, as the truth of what happened to Pato subtly unfolds and Kaddish endures the unintended consequences of yet another desperate scheme. In the end we are left, again, with the image of a figure at the window: this time it is Lillian, who does not actually believe that God might orchestrate her rescue, but hopes for it all the same. Is the gilgul of Grub Street waiting for his own divine intervention?" Ruth Franklin, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The long-awaited novel from Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Englander's wondrous and much-heralded collection of stories won the 2000 Pen/Malamud Award and was translated into more than a dozen languages.

From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina's Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won't accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence — and denies a checkered history that only Kaddish holds dear. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, the refuge of last resort.

Nathan Englander's first novel is a timeless story of fathers and sons. In a world turned upside down, where the past and the future, the nature of truth itself, all take shape according to a corrupt government's whims, one man — one spectacularly hopeless man — fights to overcome his history and his name, and, if for only once in his life, to put things right. Here again are all the marvelous qualities for which Englander's first book was immediately beloved: his exuberant wit and invention, his cosmic sense of the absurd, his genius for balancing joyfulness and despair. Through the devastation of a single family, Englander captures, indelibly, the grief of a nation. The Ministry of Special Cases, like Englander's stories before it, is a celebration of our humanity, in all its weakness, and — despite that — hope.

Review:

"Young writers are often told to write about what they know. In his 1999 collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander spun the material of his orthodox Jewish background into marvelous fiction. But the real trick to writing about what you know is to make sure you know more as you mature. Englander's first novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, conjures a world far removed from 'The Gilgul of Second Avenue.' The novel is set in 1976 in Buenos Aires during Argentina's 'dirty war.' Kaddish Poznan, hijo de puta, son of a whore, earns a meager living defacing gravestones of Jewish whores and pimps whose more respectable children want to erase their immigrant parents' names and forget their shameful activities. Kaddish labors in the Jewish cemetery at night. His hardworking wife, Lillian, toils in an insurance agency by day, and their idealistic son, Pato, attends college, goes to concerts and smokes pot with his friends. When Pato is taken from home, Kaddish learns what it really means to erase identity, because no one in authority will admit Pato has been arrested. No one will even acknowledge that Pato existed. As Lillian and Kaddish attempt to penetrate the Ministry of Special Cases, Englander's novel takes on an epic quality in which Jewish parents descend into the underworld and journey through circles of hell. Gogol, I.B. Singer and Orwell all come to mind, but Englander's book is unique in its layering of Jewish tradition and totalitarian obliteration. At times Englander's motifs seem forced. Kaddish, whose very name evokes the memory of the dead, chisels out the name of a plastic surgeon's disreputable father, and in lieu of cash receives nose jobs for himself and his wife. Lillian's nose job is at first unsuccessful, and her nose slides off her face. One form of defacement pays for another. Kaddish fights with his son in the cemetery and accidentally slices off the tip of Pato's finger. Attempting to erase a letter, Kaddish blights a digit. But the fight seems staged, Pato's presence unwarranted except for Englander's schema. Other scenes are haunting: Lillian confronting bureaucrats; Kaddish appealing to a rabbi to learn if it is possible for a Jew to have a funeral without a body; Kaddish picking an embarrassing embroidered name off the velvet curtain in front of the ark in the synagogue. When he picks off the gold thread, the name stands out even more prominently because the velvet underneath the embroidery is unfaded, darker than the rest of the fabric. Englander writes with increasing power and authority in the second half of his book; he probes deeper and deeper, looking at what absence means, reading the shadow letters on history's curtain." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Among cruel military coups, few match Argentina's Dirty War for sheer grisly horror. The covert torture and murder of tens of thousands of people from 1976 to 1983 has now been well documented, as has the pain of families who spent decades desperate for certainty about their missing children's fates. Nathan Englander's ambitious, flawed first novel, 'The Ministry of Special Cases,' visits this terrifying... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"[A] staggeringly mature work....The bulk of this overwhelming novel...is Pozman's and his wife's attempt to locate their missing son. Four P's best describe this work: poignant, powerful, political, and yet personal." Booklist (Starred Review)

Review:

"[B]listering emotional intensity....A political novel anchored, unforgettably, in the realm of the personal. Englander's story collection promised a brilliant future, and that promise is here fulfilled beyond all expectations." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

Review:

"This chilling book of intrigue examines the slow obliteration of culture and families perpetuated by forces seeking absolute political power. Highly recommended." Library Journal

Review:

"Englander secures his status as a powerful storyteller with this book about the disappearance of the son of a down-and-out Jewish hustler during Argentina's Dirty War in the seventies." Details

Review:

"Through deft, understated prose, Englander evokes the incremental way in which fear grips a community." Miami Herald

Review:

"The combination of a gift for narrative, a proclivity for pathos, and a lode of arcane knowledge is put to great use in Nathan Englander's first novel." The Boston Phoenix

Review:

"As remarkable as Englander's evocation of a country at war with itself is, his greatest achievement might be the way he manages to do it with a lightness of touch and even a few delicately comic insertions." Edmonton Journal

Review:

"One reads this novel in awe of Englander's talent." New York Times

Review:

"Englander tells this story with an inevitability born of his serious talent for giving us his kinsmen with a cold eye, showing their defects, and loving them all the same." San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"Englander is an eloquent writer, and his story reads like a parable without being trite....[A] heartbreaking story of resilience, hope and how far people will go to save a loved one." Oregonian

Synopsis:

From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, Nathan Englander's debut novel The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina's Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won't accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, a terrifying, byzantine refuge of last resort. Through the devastation of a single family, Englander brilliantly captures the grief of a nation.

About the Author

Nathan Englander's short fiction has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and numerous anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. Englander's story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, earned him a PEN/Malamud Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York City.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Milton McDonald, June 6, 2008 (view all comments by Milton McDonald)
This is the most impressive novel I have read in months!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(5 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375704444
Author:
Englander, Nathan
Publisher:
Vintage Books USA
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Jews
Subject:
History
Subject:
Missing children
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage International
Publication Date:
20080431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
7.98x5.14x.77 in. .56 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Ministry of Special Cases (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.50 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375704444 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Young writers are often told to write about what they know. In his 1999 collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander spun the material of his orthodox Jewish background into marvelous fiction. But the real trick to writing about what you know is to make sure you know more as you mature. Englander's first novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, conjures a world far removed from 'The Gilgul of Second Avenue.' The novel is set in 1976 in Buenos Aires during Argentina's 'dirty war.' Kaddish Poznan, hijo de puta, son of a whore, earns a meager living defacing gravestones of Jewish whores and pimps whose more respectable children want to erase their immigrant parents' names and forget their shameful activities. Kaddish labors in the Jewish cemetery at night. His hardworking wife, Lillian, toils in an insurance agency by day, and their idealistic son, Pato, attends college, goes to concerts and smokes pot with his friends. When Pato is taken from home, Kaddish learns what it really means to erase identity, because no one in authority will admit Pato has been arrested. No one will even acknowledge that Pato existed. As Lillian and Kaddish attempt to penetrate the Ministry of Special Cases, Englander's novel takes on an epic quality in which Jewish parents descend into the underworld and journey through circles of hell. Gogol, I.B. Singer and Orwell all come to mind, but Englander's book is unique in its layering of Jewish tradition and totalitarian obliteration. At times Englander's motifs seem forced. Kaddish, whose very name evokes the memory of the dead, chisels out the name of a plastic surgeon's disreputable father, and in lieu of cash receives nose jobs for himself and his wife. Lillian's nose job is at first unsuccessful, and her nose slides off her face. One form of defacement pays for another. Kaddish fights with his son in the cemetery and accidentally slices off the tip of Pato's finger. Attempting to erase a letter, Kaddish blights a digit. But the fight seems staged, Pato's presence unwarranted except for Englander's schema. Other scenes are haunting: Lillian confronting bureaucrats; Kaddish appealing to a rabbi to learn if it is possible for a Jew to have a funeral without a body; Kaddish picking an embarrassing embroidered name off the velvet curtain in front of the ark in the synagogue. When he picks off the gold thread, the name stands out even more prominently because the velvet underneath the embroidery is unfaded, darker than the rest of the fabric. Englander writes with increasing power and authority in the second half of his book; he probes deeper and deeper, looking at what absence means, reading the shadow letters on history's curtain." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "The awkward dance between tragedy and farce continues through the book's final pages, as the truth of what happened to Pato subtly unfolds and Kaddish endures the unintended consequences of yet another desperate scheme. In the end we are left, again, with the image of a figure at the window: this time it is Lillian, who does not actually believe that God might orchestrate her rescue, but hopes for it all the same. Is the gilgul of Grub Street waiting for his own divine intervention?" (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review" by , "[A] staggeringly mature work....The bulk of this overwhelming novel...is Pozman's and his wife's attempt to locate their missing son. Four P's best describe this work: poignant, powerful, political, and yet personal."
"Review" by , "[B]listering emotional intensity....A political novel anchored, unforgettably, in the realm of the personal. Englander's story collection promised a brilliant future, and that promise is here fulfilled beyond all expectations."
"Review" by , "This chilling book of intrigue examines the slow obliteration of culture and families perpetuated by forces seeking absolute political power. Highly recommended."
"Review" by , "Englander secures his status as a powerful storyteller with this book about the disappearance of the son of a down-and-out Jewish hustler during Argentina's Dirty War in the seventies."
"Review" by , "Through deft, understated prose, Englander evokes the incremental way in which fear grips a community."
"Review" by , "The combination of a gift for narrative, a proclivity for pathos, and a lode of arcane knowledge is put to great use in Nathan Englander's first novel."
"Review" by , "As remarkable as Englander's evocation of a country at war with itself is, his greatest achievement might be the way he manages to do it with a lightness of touch and even a few delicately comic insertions."
"Review" by , "One reads this novel in awe of Englander's talent."
"Review" by , "Englander tells this story with an inevitability born of his serious talent for giving us his kinsmen with a cold eye, showing their defects, and loving them all the same."
"Review" by , "Englander is an eloquent writer, and his story reads like a parable without being trite....[A] heartbreaking story of resilience, hope and how far people will go to save a loved one."
"Synopsis" by , From its unforgettable opening scene in the darkness of a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires, Nathan Englander's debut novel The Ministry of Special Cases casts a powerful spell. In the heart of Argentina's Dirty War, Kaddish Poznan struggles with a son who won't accept him; strives for a wife who forever saves him; and spends his nights protecting the good name of a community that denies his existence. When the nightmare of the disappeared children brings the Poznan family to its knees, they are thrust into the unyielding corridors of the Ministry of Special Cases, a terrifying, byzantine refuge of last resort. Through the devastation of a single family, Englander brilliantly captures the grief of a nation.
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